History of Zelda: 20th Anniversary Special

A vast open land… An epic musical score… A plentiful supply of beasts… A sword… A shield… One legend…

For twenty years, Link has been saving not only Hyrule, but many other lands also in his perilous and multiple quests to defeat evil. Even with the marked differences of each adventure, The Legend of Zelda has been able to maintain a constant feel, a sort of captivating atmosphere, enabling the series to sell more than 45 million units, a 40th of the total number of game units Nintendo have sold. 2006 marks the twentieth anniversary of the series, having launched in Japan in 1986. Therefore, there is no doubt that 2006 will not only be a predominantly special year for one game in particular, but the entire legendary series in general. So let the celebrations begin…

Special Chapter – Twentieth Anniversary Special – The Legend of Zelda

The very first quest threw gamers into the mix of things as the young Hylian Link. He had been summoned by Impa, Princess Zelda’s nurse, to begin a quest, to recover the eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom, of which had been split by Princess Zelda herself to prevent Ganon, the King of Evil, from obtaining it. And the legend hasn’t really changed in dynamics since that point in time. The storyline has evolved and transformed into many variations, the gameplay has been tweaked and revolutionised while each title has demonstrated the graphical prowess of each of Nintendo’s hardware systems.

The Legend of Zelda introduced many of the cornerstones and fundamentals that each title has added to and developed in their own way; the overworld theme, the cast of characters, the weaponry, quest status, items, the works. In combination with its new, revolutionary genre-defining concoction, The Legend of Zelda was able to make an exceptional impact on the gaming audience, selling 6 million gold cartridges which now lay around the globe, either at the bottom of the wardrobe, on top of a garage sale table, the endless pages of eBay or even in the working consoles of fans. This tremendous amount for a brand new intellectual property is truly representative of what was expected of Nintendo.

The series took a bold and dramatic risk with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Obviously influence by the side scrolling scapes of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda never quite looked the same. However, opening up a new side scrolling perspective, gamers could now utilise new and improved abilities of Link’s in order to master the title. It is here where Link learned the down and up stabs in Super Smash Bros. and Soulcalibur II. A better capacity to use his shield was also realised, having to face the direction of the offence.

Interestingly enough, The Adventure of Link is actually quite a dark rendition of the series, with the whole objective of the minions of the defeated Ganon being to obtain the blood of Link to resurrect the evil king. In the process to face these terrors, Link had a new and immersive social interaction element with the many NPCs of The Adventure of Link.

We also see with this title the addition to the series a diverse, complex magic system, with spells, tricks and tactics to work to Link’s aid. Since this addition, every console title in the series has had some kind of magic system that Link has been able to use for his benefit in the fight against evil and its forces.

Furthermore, Link’s first two adventures have been given a new lease on life, with the exceptionally popular (albeit exceptionally priced…) NES Classics series. Now having sold in their millions in the past couple of years, the success substantiates that captivating essence of all NES classics, including The Legend of Zelda.

A dark and menacing wizard was the call for Link in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, of whom wished to find the Golden Land, where the evil Ganon had been banished centuries before. A Link to the Past was the first and only instalment on the SNES. With Link now up to 16 bit standard, it was time to set out on a new adventure. With lush visuals and beautiful colours to savour, gamers were introduced to the two tiered system.

This system represented two different worlds for Link to explore, with tremendous amounts of difference, each providing new, unique challenges from the other. Since, two tiered systems have involved a divided world by several years, detailed night and day systems and even returns to the overworld/underworld type conception. This dynamic creation enables developers to be creative and less restricted in the construction of their worlds, which results on a richer, more complete title for gamers to experience.

Thanks to Nintendo’s “get rich quick” schemes, A Link to the Past can now be enjoyed on the go, as the Game Boy Advance remake A Link to the Past/Four Swords. Solid sales of this remake further compliment the series for its successful staying power and exceptional reputation.

On the go, Nintendo proved that massive adventures could be had anywhere, with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The main cornerstone of this title was perhaps the fact that Link could save worlds other then Hyrule. Nonetheless, it brought with it a creative and vibrant atmosphere, with Link having to collect the eight instruments of the Sirens in order to wake a mythological beast in order for a ticket back home.

Many recognisable items and beasts tested Link’s ability, as well as the many shadow bosses of past bosses along the way. To enhance this quest, Link’s Awakening saw the addition of a reward or even “loyalty” system. Collecting many of the secret seashells around Koholint Island would prove invaluable for Link to upgrade the necessaries, like his long standing and trusted sword.

Nintendo, as part of their “Colour!” campaign for the Game Boy Color, brought the 1993 title into full 56 colour display, with a bonus dungeon to entice buyers. As a result, the entire adventure can be enjoyed again in colour, which is a wonderful treat to the eyes. Escape to an exciting world of colour!

For a long time afterwards, there was nothing. Gamers could have been forgiven for thinking the series itself had become legend. However, a much grander plan was underway at Nintendo. Five long years and many delays later, the greatest selling game of the series and one of the most heralded titles of all time, including many, many game of the year and game of the century awards, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time brought the triumphant return of the series, and with it, the perfect transition into the 3rd dimension on the Nintendo 64.

Ocarina of Time combined a series of past and new elements to provide an exceptionally well rounded, enormous adventure. Putting a new emphasis on side quests, bigger NPC interaction, and a whole new revamp in the entire game structure, Ocarina of Time brought The Legend of Zelda to new heights. Time played an invaluable role in the quest, as players, for the first time, got to play as two differently aged versions of Link, and with it, the values, abilities and capacities unique to each variant.

Players were also tested in battle, with more on screen enemies, new weapons, more attacks and actions from infinite directions. The game mechanics were overhauled, with the addition of the much praised/much heralded Z-Targeting. Adventurous gamers were nurtured, with just about every place visible being reachable at some point or another. The rewards were exceptional, magical spells, techniques, items, anything you could imagine.

The Ocarina of Time is, without any doubt, the most important item of this game. With magical powers, the instrument is a necessity for unlocking doors, traversing the massive Hyrule and executing certain events, even travelling the corridors of time itself. With it, Link is able to unlock the mythical Master Sword, enabling him to be well equipped as he fulfils his destiny as the Hero of Time.

As a special promotion of The Wind Waker, the game was re-released as a combination known as The Legend of Zelda: Master Quest, playable on the GCN. The disc featured the original title plus the planned Nintendo 64 DD add-on, featuring altered dungeons and paths for Link. This pre-sell program was one of the most successful of this/last generation.

However, when Link finished his quest and became a legend, Navi, his precious friend that had helped Link through his perils, left him. And as Link returned through the Lost Woods on the way home, he attempted to find her. In the process, a masked stranger hijacked Epona and Link, sending the hero flying, knocking him unconscious. The masked one stole the Ocarina of Time, and retreated on Epona, with Link hanging. From this point on, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was born, and now, it was time for Link to save Termina.

Majora’s Mask presents a real time, 3 day cycle, where events, activities, even people happen in real time. There are more NPCs than any previous title, more events, more side quests and masks galore. With time running out where on the third day, a tragic event will see the end of the world, Link has to ensure that he can one again control the passage of time.

The core of Majora’s Mask is the extensive amount of masks and their special applications, along with the rich and diverse 3 days and their events. A progressively darker storyline has Link having to help villagers and their predicaments as well as piecing together parts of the puzzle as to what has caused the impending catastrophe. Time was a big part of Ocarina of Time, but it is simply off the scale in Majora’s Mask.

Transformation, a new element designed to help the player along their quest, enables Link to become other races or even adapt to the abilities encased in the mask of such creatures. Ranging from the super sensitive hearing and running capabilities of a rabbit to the massive girth and weight of the Gorons, Link is no longer able to remain himself if he is to succeed. Even resembling a likeness to the personas of creatures Link is able to transform into, he is able to maintain the personal, deep relationships that those creatures once had. This is a new kind of depth and scope to the series, with exceptional quality and detail in every aspect, building strong foundations for storylines within The Legend of Zelda.

Termina, however, is not the only place Link has saved other than Hyrule; Holodrum and Labrynna, two distant lands, plagued by the evil intentions of Twinrova; Kotake and Koume, are being battered as plans to resurrect the evil Ganon are coming together with the presence of both Din, the Oracle of Seasons, and Nayru, the Oracle of Ages. As the oracles are kidnapped, Link is left stunned and wondering about what he has to do in order to save his newly found friends.

The Oracle series returned the legend to the world’s most successful console, the Game Boy, after eight years absence. Using a revamped Link’s Awakening engine, the two titles continued the successful run of the series in handheld format. However, a clever and unique element added to the series in order to upgrade and build stats, built on the handheld success of the series. Using a complex and detail password system, players were able to add to Link’s abilities, upgrade his items, even unlocking new ones.

Once the entire adventure is complete on one title, players are then able to transfer saved data to the other and continue their quest. Only then will you have played the ultimate adventure. This, combined with a fresh and dynamic quest plot, mean that the two titles have achieved astounding success, with combined sales of six million units.

But what about those friends that have sat and watched you play through the Zelda experience without physical involvement? Well, Flagship had the answer. As a bonus pack in with Nintendo/Capcom’s remake of A Link to the Past, a new adventure

awaited gamers. The world of four player Zelda was born with Four Swords. This was a new, unique experience where gamers had to not only help in order to progress each different stage, but compete as well for the highest amount of rupees.

A new story accompanied the quest, as a wicked wind mage had kidnapped Princess Zelda. The end result of this title is a melee of swords, bombs, bows and arrows. Players backstabbing their buddies to come out on top, all the while helping each other to end the level. Rivalries were built, grudges were held, but the end goal for all was the same; Defeat Vaati and save Zelda. This element of four player co-operative mayhem suits 2D Zelda right down to the shield. It really is screaming Nintendo DS Wi-Fi Connection.

The Legend of Zelda isn’t without its controversy either. When Nintendo demonstrated the GCN’s first Zelda title in 2001, fans raged, outcries were dramatic, the press was ballistic. What had happened? Link was a cartoon. Hyrule was a cartoon. There was no such thing as textures, everything was just a palette of colour. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is the most controversial title in the series. Cell shading and Zelda were two things that just didn’t seem to mix. Nonetheless, for a GCN title, it has sold exceptionally well, with more than four million titles sold worldwide. It has demonstrated that there was little reason to worry, except for a little (understatement) treasure hunting nearing the end.

The Wind Waker made an artistic statement, it showed that the series could be told in a different way, in a bizarre water world, and still be the success story it is. Link never looked the same, neither did Hyrule. Travelling was never so much like the real world as it was in The Wind Waker (tiring), but at the same time, a tiny island never looked so inviting. The impact of this title has even been transferred over to this year’s major release (see Crown, Midna). One thing is for sure, the style was a bold and artistic approach, although may never be repeated, but is beautiful in its own right.

The general artistic direction was adapted for both Four Swords and its preceding Four Swords Adventures; A GCN title with the same focus and scope of the handheld adventure, only better. Using the power of the GameCube, Four Swords Adventures delivers a pixelated particle effect extravaganza. Explosions are massive, colours are vibrant while the retro feel is all apparent with SNES+ graphics and Wind Waker esque Link sprites. The title delivers a sort of prequel to Four Swords, filling in the gaps of the legend, building on the foundations set by that title.

However, gameplay is largely unchanged; Help each other to the end of the level, but beat your friends in competitive friendliness. Yeah, friendliness… Grab as many force gems as you can, be the first to uncover helpful items and heart pieces, ensure you are first to do everything,- other than die. It costs too much.

The essence of the Four Sword, the weapon used to split Link in four, isn’t left behind though, possessing the mighty Picori Blade in The Minish Cap. With the item of the same name, Link’s newest adventure is shrunk down to microscopic proportions. Ezlo is the Minish Cap’s name, and it’s time for Link to find out why this hat is as it is, why Zelda is a stone and the creatures that can restore the power of the elements to the blade.

The contribution of this title to the series is an introduction to where the mysterious Vaati came from, his connection with the wind, and the power of the Minish;- A new race of inch high sprites that do good for the world of Hyrule and its inhabitants. The Minish, or Picori as they are sometimes referred to, are creators of Kinstones, special items specifically designed to bring unifiers ultimate happiness, which is really an extension on the link system between the Oracle games in order to help Link upgrade items and progress. The Minish Cap re-enforces the series on the Game Boy.

Then there are the not-so-traditional adventures involving Link. In 1989, one of the last Game & Watch units to be released was Zelda, a short, simple LCD game where Link had to collect the Triforce pieces. Highly revered on eBay.

As a star in Super Smash Bros., Link takes many of his collective signature techniques in order to wage battle with many of Nintendo’s recognisable characters. And with him, he brings a few of his locales for stages, drops a heart or two around for health, and allows Ganondorf and Princess Zelda to join in on the fun.

Then, every other day he isn’t saving the world, Link makes a trip to Europe to feature as a special guest in Namco’s Soulcalibur II. These cameos demonstrate the influence of this young man and his battles against evil. They are even respected by other developers.

So… Where to for the series from here? Fans of the series already know, and every gamer too should already know.

It was the megaton of E3 2004. People cheered and cried, cameras flashed, Nintendo reinstated faith in one single day, even if it were for that day alone. Speculation ran into overdrive. Link was grown up. Link was back. Link was ready to kick arse.

For ten months afterwards, we heard nothing, saw nothing, Nintendo went back into its secrecy shell. But when March of 2005 rolled around, the first new footage was shown, and it was just as beautiful, just as creepy and just as spine tingling. Later that year in May, the game was revealed in a big way. Suddenly, the newly named Twilight Princess was the talk of the show. People lined up for hours on end to get to Nintendo’s booth to play the game, all four levels of it.

Afterwards, previews were suggesting that it would be the game of the year. November was mentioned and suddenly, the GameCube’s seemingly drab life was about to have a hit of steroids. That was until Nintendo announced a delay. WTF comes to mind…

The official line was that it would now launch after March 2006, as developers needed extra time to add some “exciting elements”. I have no doubt that some additional elements will be added, but it shouldn’t have taken five months. No way. I believe that Nintendo has a much more insightful plan. The reason for Twilight Princess‘ delay, I believe, has more to do with the reason for this article; 2006 marks the twentieth anniversary of the series, having launched in Japan in 1986. Think about the events and product launches Mario got for twenty five years. All of a sudden you have a major opportunity for the Zelda series. Perhaps a playable Zelda Revolution demo for when you buy the new hardware, or perhaps a GCN remake in Twilight Princess colours for a past title. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, twenty years on, the legend is just as strong…

The Legend of Zelda.